July 18, 2014

Learn More About Satellites Attributed with Seeing the MH17 Shootdown (Source: Aviation Week)
The U.S. Space-Based Infrared System (Sbirs) and its predecessor Defense Support Program satellites are getting a lot of attention because of the tragic crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, allegedly shot down over Eastern Ukraine July 17. Aviation Week has tracked the progress of these specialized satellites over their development and deployment.

Read here to learn about what they can do -- including a "see-through-cloud" capability that allows these powerful infrared sensors to detect missile launches, even through cloud cover. Sbirs and DSP are considered the U.S.'s first line of defense against ballsitc missile attack -- but these sensors can be "tuned" to look for other threats, including surface-to-air missiles, especially because the alleged shootdown happened in excess of 30,000 ft. (7/17)

Malaysia Flight MH17 and Spaceflight: A Widening Crisis? (Source: Space Safety)
The loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 – just weeks after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 – is another tragedy for civil aviation and a potentially serious geopolitical trigger. At the time of writing, roughly half a day after the loss of the aircraft, it seems beyond reasonable doubt that the 777 airliner was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Exactly how and why this happened is still a matter of investigation and dispute.

At some point, the potential impact on spaceflight needs to be considered. Tensions between Russia and the USA have been strained for several months, following the Russian annexation of Crimea. There was a flurry of bellicose and sometimes obnoxious rhetoric from lawmakers on both sides. Sanctions against Russian space companies were proposed. The most immediate issue was the use of imported Russian engines on American rockets. (7/18)

Contemporary Art is Not Lost in Space (Source: Japan Times)
While space art is a relatively small field — in which works that have actually been created in space is an even smaller subset — it can only become more commonplace as costs fall and the private sector promises to open up space travel to non-specialists, albeit very wealthy ones. As such, “Space x Art” is a portent of things to come, especially as it eschews the figurative depiction of astronomical bodies that forms the core of space art as defined in the U.S. Instead, the exhibition looks to art that uses the conditions and phenomena of outer space as part of the creative process. Click here. (7/18)

Alternative to Russia’s Rocket Engine: Easier Said Than Done (Source: Washington Business Journal)
The fact is, the Russian RD-180 engine has performed extremely well. So not just any engine will do. Moreover, the manufacture process of the RD-180 is one that cannot be easily replicated. In addition, the most effective way to design a launch capability is to design all components in coordination to optimize capabilities needed to meet mission requirements. That translates to changes to other parts of the launch vehicle, which in turn means more time and money.

“In other words, replacing the RD-180 could require the development of a new launch vehicle and potentially new launch infrastructure,” said Cristina Chaplain, the Government Accountability Office’s director of acquisition and sourcing management, during a hearing Wednesday before the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. (7/18)

Alabama Factory Turns Rocket Science Into Rockets (Source: Made in Alabama)
Inside the United Launch Alliance Alabama factory, rocket science powers to life as workers assemble the giant Atlas and Delta launch vehicles that thrust critical satellites aloft and blast probes into deep space. The sprawling, one-of-a-kind plant tucked away on an industrial road in this Morgan County city plays an important role in today’s high-tech world: The ULA rockets made here help create the constellation of satellites overhead that shape life in the 21st Century. Click here. (7/17)

India Plans Another Mars Mission in 2017-20 (Source: Times of India)
India is planning a "follow-on" mission to the Red Planet between 2017 and 2020 having a lot of scientific content, chairman of Isro K Radhakrishnan announced here on Thursday. Radhakrishnan said that the final decision will depend upon the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) orbit insertion on September 24, 2014. (7/18)

Rosetta Sees Surprising Shape to Spinning Comet (Source: SpaceFlight Now)
Closing in to begin a thorough investigation in August, a camera on Europe's Rosetta comet-chasing probe has revealed its target has a few surprises in store for scientists. Scientists say the comet is a contact binary, which consists of two bodies stuck together. They have compared the comet's shape to a duck, with one part larger than the other. (7/18)

Dauria Aerospace To Build Two Lightweight Satellites for Indo-U.S. Venture (Source: Space News)
Satellite services provider Aniara SpaceCom LLC of India and the U.S. on July 15 said it has contracted with Russian/German satellite builder Dauria Aerospace to launch two all-electric Ku-band telecommunications satellites together on an Indian Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle, or GSLV, rocket in late 2017.

The contract, valued at $210 million and signed at the Farnborough Air Show here in the presence of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, is based on a direct loan from Russia’s export-credit agency, the Export Insurance Agency of Russia (ExIAR), following what Aniara said are bandwidth-lease contracts from Indian and Southeast Asian customers. (7/18)

How Movies Get Space Wrong (by Chris Hadfield) (Source: Cracked)
Chris Hadfield, whom you may recognize from all of the videos he uploaded to YouTube about his life aboard the International Space Station, wanted to be an astronaut ever since he watched the moon landing on television at the age of 9. So, he became one. It wasn't easy -- it took decades of hard work, sacrifice, immeasurable support from his family, and a bit of luck. Chris recently talked about a few of the things he learned during two space shuttle missions and five months aboard the International Space Station. Click here. (7/18)

Former NASA Astronaut Dies From Complications Following Surgery (Source: SpaceFlight Insider)
Spaceflight Insider is receiving reports that retired astronaut Hank Hartsfield has passed away from complications following a recent back surgery. Hartsfield commanded STS-41D. (7/17)

Congressman: Protect Ex-Im, Protect U.S. Jobs  (Source: The Hill)
Failure to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank will mean U.S. jobs and competitiveness are at risk, writes Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La. Small businesses need Ex-Im's help to access foreign markets, he argues. "They are important elements in the global supply and value chains and are competing against firms from countries like China, France, Germany, Brazil and South Korea that provide significantly higher export assistance," writes Boustany. (7/16)

UrtheCast & NanoRacks To Install Earth Observation Cameras on ISS (Source: UrtheCast)
UrtheCast, under an agreement with NanoRacks, plans to dramatically expand its Earth Observation data stream by operating state-of-the-art sensors on the NASA segment of the International Space Station (ISS). The Company intends to develop and supply the EO sensors, electronics and all related hardware. NanoRacks, working with the U.S. National Lab manager CASIS, will facilitate the launch, installation and onboard integration of the cameras and hardware in accordance with its Space Act Agreement with NASA. (7/16)

General Scolded Over SpaceX Comments (Source: Florida Today)
When SpaceX sued the Air Force this spring, claiming the Pentagon was illegally blocking competition for its military satellite launch business, the head of the Air Force Space Command scolded the California-based aerospace company. "Generally, the person you're going to do business with, you don't sue them," Air Force Gen. William Shelton was quoted as saying at a Colorado space symposium in May.

On Wednesday, GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona reprimanded Shelton for those comments during a hearing examining access to space from U.S soil. "If some company or corporation thinks they are not being fairly treated, you don't think that they should be able to sue? I mean that's not our system of government, Gen. Shelton," McCain told the general. "It shows a real bias against the ability of any company in America to do what they think is best." (7/16)

Air Force Taking Bids to Launch Spy Satellites for 1st Time in Decade (Source: LA Times)
For the first time in a decade, the Air Force has opened up a rocket competition to launch the U.S. government's most sophisticated national security satellites. The Air Force released a request for proposal on Tuesday to companies that want to compete for a national security mission set to blast off in 2016. (7/16)

Senators Vow to Reassert America's Rocket Power (Source: The Hill)
Lawmakers and top military officials on Wednesday expressed fears that friction with Russia could someday leave the United States without the power to launch rockets into space. Reliance on a single Russian engine to launch many critical military satellites could come back to haunt the U.S., officials said, if tensions between the two nations continue to rise.

“If you consider space a national security priority, then you absolutely have to consider assured access to space a national security priority,” Gen. William Shelton, commander of the Air Force’s space command, testified in a joint Senate committee hearing on Wednesday. “Given that we have a vulnerability here, it’s time to close that hole,” he said.

Both chambers of Congress have turned attention to the issue. The House’s defense spending bill called for $220 million to begin building an RD-180 replacement in the U.S. The Senate Armed Services Committee has recommended $100 million for the purpose. The full costs of replacing the engine could be much higher than Congress is willing to commit to right now. (7/16)

Largest Laser Gives Diamond a Record-Setting Squeeze (Source: New Scientist)
Diamond has been subjected to the wrath of the world's largest laser, which compressed the stone to greater pressures than it has ever experienced on Earth. The results hint at the mysterious conditions deep inside giant planets. The dense atmospheres of gas giants Jupiter and Saturn contain carbon. Chemical modelling suggests pressure deep inside the planets would crush it into a rain of diamond chips and perhaps create large chunks of diamond.

But until now, no one had been able to replicate such pressures on Earth and test the notion. "If you compress it too fast, it gets very hot and melts, and you'd just have liquid carbon," he says. To avoid this, the team used a technique called ramp compression, which NIF engineers originally designed to implode fuel capsules for research into nuclear fusion power.

The team fixed a diamond inside a hole cut in a small gold cylinder, and then precisely timed laser pulses to strike the cylinder's interior walls. This caused the gold to emit an avalanche of X-rays that bombarded the stone, triggering powerful compression waves inside it. (7/16)

Alabama Firm Building Test Stands for Largest NASA Rocket (Source: Made In Alabama)
NASA’s next-generation rocket will one day make an epic journey to Mars, but first it will have to pass trials at giant test stands now under construction in Alabama. Birmingham-based Brasfield & Gorrie has been awarded a $45.3 million contract to build two test stands that will ensure the Space Launch System (SLS) can withstand launch stresses when the space agency is ready to launch an unmanned flight in 2017. (7/16)

Alabama Researchers Probe Futuristic Propulsion System (Source: Made in Alabama)
At Redstone Arsenal, the cradle of the nation’s rocket program, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Boeing Co., NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and the Arsenal are working together to probe a futuristic propulsion system that could send explorers to Mars and beyond at the university’s Charger-1 Pulsed Power Generator.

Boeing, which has a major presence in Huntsville, hired engineer Erin Gish to work full-time on the project as part of a team that includes researchers from UAH and Marshall Space Flight Center, led by UAH associate professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Dr. Jason Cassibry. “Erin is researching propellant feed systems and helping to develop some of the pulsed power technologies we will use in future experiments,” Dr. Cassibry said.

The scientists are repurposing machinery originally built for nuclear weapons research into a test facility for a spacecraft propulsion system based on nuclear fusion. The facility will produce an extremely brief pulse of plasma created by an equally brief nuclear fusion reaction. An engine producing these pulses could propel a spacecraft over inter­planetary distances at great speeds. (7/16)

Is Space Junk Catastrophic for Earth? (Source: CNN)
It is easy to calculate the path of the re-entering spacecraft because it is along the track of the orbit. But how quickly it descends depends on details that are much harder to predict. It makes a big difference how the structure burns and how it falls apart. Bigger pieces continue to hurtle downward while smaller pieces burn completely high up in the atmosphere. That's why predictions of where space debris will land are notoriously uncertain.

The good news is that only one-quarter of the surface of the Earth is land, and most of that is uninhabited. So damage to people and property is rare. Most falling space debris lands harmlessly and with no witnesses. The likelihood of serious damage is very low. But a big hunk of metal -- or a large asteroid -- falling in the wrong place could be catastrophic. It's definitely a good idea to keep the Skylab-sized space junk controllable and to catalog asteroids that will pass near the Earth. But in the end, whether we go the way of the dinosaurs might just be down to luck. (7/16)

After Apollo: Do We Need to Go Back to the Moon? (Source: CNN)
So why haven't we been back to the moon? NASA points out that the moon has not been ignored.
"In the 45 years since the Apollo program, NASA has continued scientific study of the moon through robotic explorers," said a NASA spokesman. "Contemporary missions like NASA's GRAIL, LADEE, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have helped us explore the upper atmosphere, surface, and interior of our nearest neighbor in the solar system. Click here. (7/16)

Virgin Galactic Sets Sights on 2016 for LauncherOne (Source: Via Satellite)
Though more prominently known for its suborbital spaceflight business, Virgin Galactic has also been working on a dedicated small satellite launch system known as LauncherOne. Speaking to Via Satellite, George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said the company hopes to have liftoff using its air-launch system within the next two years.

“We try not to set specific deadlines with our programs, but our hope remains that the first launches of LauncherOne could happen as early as 2016,” said Whitesides. “Ultimately, the flight rate will be dictated by commercial demand; the system and our business as a whole has been established to be extremely flexible.” (7/16)

Space Tourism Needs an ‘Orbital Megabus’ to Truly Lift Off (Source: The Conversation)
There are numerous questions surrounding this nascent form of tourism. Many focus on the technology in place to deliver it, the legislation that is necessary to safeguard it and, most recently, the pragmatic questions of where spaceports should be placed. But, often overlooked is the issue of exactly what the industry will look like and who it will target, which isn’t as clear cut as you might assume. The plan is to start space-plane operations by 2018, so who can we expect to be taking part in this new frontier of the travel industry?

In its purest form, it puts forward a mass-market future that emphasises the sight-seeing potential of trips into space. Although Virgin Galactic may aspire to this goal, they have for now focused on trips for the very wealthy, not the expansion of the market.

A true space tourism model would be comparable to the civil aviation that exists today: a significant number of passengers on one flight and eventually the possibility of a Megabus-equivalent for space travel. In this sense it is a future of commercialisation, albeit one subtly different to existing forms of transit. Click here. (7/16)

These High-Tech Sneakers are Astronaut-Approved (Source: Quartz)
There are many ways to celebrate man’s first walk on the moon, which took place almost exactly 45 years ago on July 20, 1969. General Electric is marking the occasion with some very special high-top sneakers. Although they look more like something Michael Jackson would have moonwalked in than footwear suitable for space travel, the sneakers are actually pretty high-tech. According to GE, the shoes are partially made of the same carbon fiber that’s used for jet engine components, and their “hydrophobic coating” is similar to the material that keeps wind turbine blades ice-free. GE and the sneaker company Android Homme will only make 100 pairs. (7/16)

Seth Green Explains How He Got Involved With Space Travel (Source: Hollywood Reporter)
XPRIZE Foundation chairman and CEO Dr. Peter Diamandis and Emmy-nominated actor Seth Green took to the stage Monday night to talk commercial space exploration and incentivized innovations as part of the Hammer museum’s ongoing Hammer Conversations series. Uniting over their passion for all things space-related, Green and Diamandis focused on space travel as part of nonprofit XPRIZE’s greater mission to solve global problems through prize-winning high-profile public competitions. Click here. (7/16)

NASA Sets Aside $25 Million for Instruments to 'Search for Life Beyond Earth' (Source: Independent)
The ice-covered moon of Europa is often considered to be one of our best chances for finding alien life in the Solar System - and it seems that NASA agrees. The US space agency is setting aside $25 million to create the scientific instruments needed for a mission to the satellite.

NASA says that these tools could “address fundamental questions about the icy moon and the search for life beyond Earth,” and will be selecting 20 proposals from scientists in April 2015 to work out how to best study Europa. It’s believed that underneath the icy exterior of Europa there is a single, mammoth ocean containing double the water found on the surface of the Earth. It's thought that this mass is kept liquid by the gravitational pull of Jupiter – a force that’s thought to create tidal swells 1,000 times stronger than our own Moon. (7/16)

Airbus Defense and Space Strengthens Strategic Global Xpress Partnership (Source: Airbus)
Airbus Defense and Space has expanded its strategic agreement with Inmarsat on Global Xpress high-speed broadband with a new agreement extending reselling of the ultra-fast broadband service to the US government market. The tier-one reseller agreement will enable Airbus Defense and Space to offer Inmarsat’s broadband satellite service to its channel partners and direct customer base. (7/16)

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